Tuesday, May 20, 2003


Here's a Philadephia Inquirer report on protests at a Rick Santorum commencement speech. And here's a Rockford (Ill.) Register-Star report on protests at a commencement speech by reporter Chris Hedges. Let's compare and contrast:

...about 80 students and faculty paraded out of the celebration tent during yesterday's ceremony to protest the day's speaker, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.

Dozens of other students hooked rainbow-colored tassels onto their mortarboards, along with the university's regular-issue crimson and gray tassels, as a silent protest of Santorum's recent controversial statements about homosexuals.

Outside campus, along City Avenue, 15 more protesters, some St. Joseph's alumni, held up posters that read: "Just Say No To Rick" and "Republican, Catholic, Gay." Another read: "Stop! Fundamentalist Extremism," and had photos of Santorum and Osama bin Laden....

Just before Santorum received an honorary degree, the protesters stood and left. Some students jeered them.


Hedges began his abbreviated 18-minute speech comparing United States’ policy in Iraq to piranhas and a tyranny over the weak. His microphone was unplugged within three minutes.

Voices of protest and the sound of foghorns grew.

Some graduates and audience members turned their backs to the speaker in silent protest. Others rushed up the aisle to vocally protest the remarks, and one student tossed his cap and gown to the stage before leaving.

Mary O’Neill of Capron, who earned a degree in elementary education, sat in her black cap and gown listening. She was stunned.

She turned to Pribbenow and asked him why he was letting the speech continue....

After his microphone was again unplugged, Pribbenow told Hedges to wrap it up....

Spontaneous reaction led 66-year-old Gerald Kehoe of rural Boone County down the aisle in his first time to protest anything....

A student who rushed the stage could face reprimand although he still received his diploma.

Maybe this is apples and oranges -- Santorum's speech, to judge from the reports, wasn't controversial, while the Hedges speech was unexpectedly controversial. The reaction to Santorum was planned, while the response to Hedges was spontaneous. But Santorum, however mild-mannered his presentation may have been, nevertheless despises harmless acts engaged in by many of the graduates he was asked to address, or acts engaged in by their friends and relatives. Yet the protest against him was polite. Hedges, by contrast, was silenced -- several ways. Some walked out on Hedges. Others turned their backs on him. But that wasn't good enough for the rest, was it?

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